Seven Common Business Writing Mistakes

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Seven Common Business Writing Mistakes | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

. . . And How to Avoid Them

Guest post by instructor Christine Dubois

Do your business letters go straight to your customers’ waste baskets? Are you tearing your hair out composing your latest brochure?

Good writing doesn’t have to be hard. With a little practice, you can learn to write easily and effectively.

Start by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Writing to Impress

There was a time when complex words, formal phrases, and vague, convoluted sentences were considered professional. Not anymore.

Nowadays, people want writing that’s clear, informal, and personal. Your customers won’t take the time to wade through businessese, bureaucratese, or any other writing disease.

If you really want to sound professional, try this: Use plain English. You’ve been speaking it successfully for years. Write like you talk: Simply, directly, conversationally. Use familiar words, short sentences. It’s easier for your readers — and for you.

2. Believing Everything Your 7th Grade English Teacher Taught You

Many people are still carrying in their heads the dire predictions of long-dead English teachers. But contrary to what Mrs. Johnson may have told you, the world will not end if you split an infinitive.

Lots of things you learned never to do are OK now. Like using sentence fragments. And starting sentences with “and” or “but.”

You can even use personal pronouns.

Just let your ear be your guide.

3. Forgetting Your Audience

We all know people who get so wrapped up in telling their story they ignore the people they’re talking to. It can happen on paper, too.

Picture your audience when you write, including:

  • What are their interests, skills, and passions?
  • What is their socio-economic or educational level?
  • What do they need to know?

Keeping your audience in mind will help make your writing more personal and to the point.

4. Fuzzy Thinking

Can you summarize your message in one sentence? No? Then stop writing and start thinking.

Clear writing begins with clear thinking. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, your readers won’t either.

Before you write, state your main point in one sentence. Hang it where you can see it. It will help keep your writing on track.

5. Saving Your Main Point Until the End

A popular method of organization is to introduce the topic, present facts and arguments, and end with your recommendation.

There’s one problem: Most readers don’t ever get to your recommendation.

Instead, begin with your main point, conclusion, or recommendation.

For example, “Because orders have increased by 50 percent in the past six months, I recommend we hire two additional staff people.” Then give the supporting data.

Remember the summary sentence in #4? It’s a great way to begin your business letter or report.

6. Too Much Passive Voice

In passive voice, things happen without any direct human involvement. For example:

  • “It has been determined that . . . “
  • “There has been an overpayment in your account.”

If the person doing the action isn’t in the sentence (or is hiding behind the preposition “by”), you’re writing in the passive voice.

No one wants to do business with a company run by phantoms. Get real people back in your writing by using active voice, such as:

  • “My partner and I have determined . . . “
  • “You paid more than you owed us.”

7. Using Abstract Language

What’s wrong with these sentences?

  • “Hunger is a major problem in our city.”
  • “The quality of education is declining.”
  • “Good writing is important.”

They’re too general. They won’t stick in anyone’s memory.

To stay with your reader, your writing must present a concrete image. For example:

  • “Five-year-old Becky goes to bed hungry the last week of every month.”
  • “One quarter of the sophomores at Goodtimes High don’t have the math skills to develop a family budget.”
  • “A warm, personal writing style can build rapport with your clients–and improve your bottom line.”

Flesh out vague statements with specific examples.

Avoid these common writing mistakes, and your message will reach your customers’ hearts and minds — instead of their recycling bins.

Writing Resources

About Christine Dubois

Christine is an award-winning writer and editor who handles articles, newsletters, brochures, press releases, websites, resumes, and other writing projects for a variety of grateful clients.

She teaches writing classes at North Seattle and Seattle Central colleges, as well as for local businesses. Her warmth, knowledge, and enthusiasm make her a popular instructor.

Learn more at:

Explore the History of Propaganda in Film

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Is It Fake News or Is It Propaganda?

…and is there really a difference?

Since its invention, the film medium has been used by different societies to promote cultural ideas, inspire national solidarity, educate about its goals, and more.

In a new partnership with SIFF and Scarecrow Video, Seattle Central is excited to offer you the opportunity to delve into the history of propaganda in film, as demonstrated by four historical films designed specifically to influence the societies in which they were created.

Filmmaker and instructor Richie Meyer shared with us more about his inspiration for this class, why you’ll want to take it, and what you’ll walk away with.

What is your background?

I have been making films and teaching about films for 40 years.

My degrees are from Stanford University and NYU.

How long have you been teaching this class?

This is a new class at Seattle Central but I have taught similar courses at other universities.

What inspired you to teach this class?

The recent presidential election had many elements of propaganda in its use of the media.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

I will use real life situations — not theories — about the way different nations used film to influence people.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

Anyone who has an interest in the present political situation, and film in general.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

After the courses were over, I have met former students who told me that the way they look at movies changed because of my classes.

Recommended Resources

In addition to the films that will be screened as part of this program, we recommend watching the following complementary films (all of which will be on hold and available for students at Scarecrow Video):

Week One

  • The Axe of Wandsbek
  • Bismarck
  • The Rothschild’s Shares in Waterloo
  • Hitler Youth Quex

Week Two

  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Ten Days that Shook the World
  • Strike

Week Three

  • Beast of Berlin
  • God is My Co-Pilot
  • 30 Seconds Over Tokyo

Week Four

  • Siberian Express
  • Attack at Dawn
  • Army

Key Takeaways

  1. An appreciation of the ways film and media propaganda manipulate facts
  2. Understand the film medium and its power
  3. Screen the great films of propaganda and learning how they were used
  4. Understand how the modern uses of propaganda in film build on those of the past

Seattle Central Cannabis Institute Partners with the Cannabis Alliance

The Cannabis Alliance | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

We're Bringing the Cannabis Industry to You

The Cannabis Institute at Seattle Central College is excited to announce that will now be hosting monthly meetings of the Cannabis Alliance.

The Cannabis Alliance “is a non-profit, membership-based association of individuals, businesses, government officials, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to the advancement of a sustainable, vital and ethical cannabis industry.” Stated briefly, they work to make it work.

To learn more about the work that they do, we spoke with Danielle Rosellison, president of The Cannabis Alliance. In addition to her role with the Alliance, Danielle is co-owner of 502 producer Trailblazin’ Productions, and board member of both The Cannabis Farmers Council and Washington Federation of Marijuana Businesses.

For those unfamiliar, what exactly is the Cannabis Alliance? Why does it matter?

The Cannabis Alliance is the merging of 5 other cannabis associations who realized we are more powerful unified, than scattered and fractured.

We are a non-profit dedicated to the advancement of a sustainable, vital and ethical cannabis industry.

Basically, we’re the good guys.

Why is involvement with professional organizations important?

This industry, more so than most, has so many moving parts, as well as 70 years of misinformation.

In order to combat those misconceptions, we need to be organized and strategic. Professional organizations are the best way to accomplish those goals.

What are the Alliance's current priorities?

The Cannabis Alliance is focused on getting cannabis designated as agriculture (but not for tax purposes), legalizing sharing and consumption clubs, lowering the excise tax in some cases, and eliminating the excise tax for medical patients.

Is it open to those who want to be involved in cannabis and don't know where to start? How would you suggest someone become involved?

Come to a general meeting, which is on the second Thursday of the month from 12pm – 2pm, at Seattle Central’s Wood Technology Center.

It’s free the first time for students, and you can decide then whether or not you want to become a member. It’s a great way to network and learn more about this burgeoning industry.

Spring 2017 Registration is Open!

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Learn the Language of Business

This Spring is all about skill refinement, and learning the different ‘languages’ of the business world.

We’re launching our partnership with Coding Dojo, which will introduce you to two of the web’s most popular programming languages, PHP and Python.

If diving into the tech world isn’t for you, we’re offering workshops on delivering awesome presentations, how to give constructive feedback, the ins-and-outs of the social web, and more.

Join us!

Featured Programs

Lifelong Learning

American Sign Language
Discover a brand new way of connecting with your diverse community.

English for Speakers of Other Languages
New! Grow your communication skills and build on your existing English knowledge.

Painting Portraits of Color
New! Expand your artistic palette by learning how to paint a variety of skin tones.

Spanish the Natural Way – Beginning
Establish a solid foundation through this innovative method of learning a language.

Professional Development

Coding Dojo: Python & LAMP Bootcamps
New! Learn key programming languages used in software applications and web development.

Delivering Presentations with Purpose & Impact
New! Take anxiety out of the equation and learn to present your ideas with confidence.

Fearless Feedback: How to Give & Receive It
New! Transform your collaborations into positive, effective, and constructive interactions.

Introduction to Social Media Marketing
Gain insight into the tools, platforms, strategy, and best practices of the social web.

Develop a Wellness Plan That’s Right for You

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Fitness Classes in Seattle WA
Nutritional Therapy Practitioner | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Fitness Classes in Seattle WA

Over 40% of People Make New Year's Resolutions, but Only 9% of Them Feel They Achieve Them

Many resolutions are health-related, with things such as losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, and working out more often ranking highly on people’s New Year to-do lists. But with such a small portion of folks actually feeling successful in achieving their new goals, is there a better way to approach them?

When it comes to health, personal trainer EP Massey has been working with clients for over 30 years to help them set realistic goals, and then achieve them. He brings his extensive experience to our Six Steps to a Healthier You class, which provides customized tips and guidance on designing a wellness plan that works for your specific needs.

He’s seen a lot of success, and he’s seen failures, but what they both have in common is a commitment to making small changes over time, and then sticking with them. Here are a few of his suggestions.

Eat Your Weight Off

We’re often confused about how to lose weight because of so many competing short-term diet fads and promises of fast results. If it’s a fast and easy-to-do diet, it probably won’t help you maintain your weight loss over time.

Instead, think about developing an efficient eating plan, which provides you with a strategic program that incorporates all the important aspects of proper nutrition.

This means consuming the necessary calories your body needs to function while also ensuring that you are eating the right mix of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and water.

No More 3 Meals a Day

EP’s first recommendation is to give up the idea of eating only 3 meals a day. “I think it’s old-fashioned and outdated,” he notes. “It’s very difficult to consume the calories and nutrients needed for successful weight control by eating only three meals a day. You’re often eating too many calories at once, which makes you a fat-storing machine, instead of a fat-burning machine.”

Instead, develop a plan where you eat four to six smaller meals each day. Here’s the strategy that EP uses for his clients:

  • Within 2 hours of waking up: Eat breakfast; this jump starts your metabolism.
  • Every 2 – 3 hours: Eat something small such as carrot sticks, string cheese, crackers; this keeps your metabolism running high all day
  • Within 5 hours of waking up / before 1:00 PM each day: Eat three small meals; this gives your body the energy it needs to operate, and ensures you’re not loading up on calories later in the day when your body is starting to slow down
  • At least 2 hours before bedtime: Eat dinner, and try to minimize or eliminate starches such as bread, rice, pasta, or potatoes; include plenty of green leafy vegetables combined with a lean protein

Make Weekends Work for You

EP also suggests taking a break on from your structured eating plan on the weekend; this will give you the room to enjoy some of the higher calorie, low in nutrients foods you might love (did someone say ice cream?!), and will help you maintain your structured diet plan for a longer period of time. This is also a great time to plan out your meals for the week ahead to make sure you stay on track.

Remember: It’s all about balance!

Prioritize Your Fitness

For most of us, working out isn’t a lot of fun, so coming up with a plan we can stick with is important. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

Set Annual Goals

Instead of saying “I’m going to the gym every day!” and then giving up on your goal when you can’t make it a few times in a row, think of how many times you want to go to the gym per year, and then break that down into monthly and weekly goals.

If you’re just getting back into the swing of things, try setting a target of 150 for the year, which is about 12 times per month and 3 times per week. If you go more often than that, great! But if you have something come up and you end up skipping a few days in a row, you can always look toward your annual goal and know that you’ll make up for it later.

And when you achieve that 150 this year, increase it to 175 or 200 next year. Ultimately, being active 4 – 7 days a week is ideal, but give yourself some time to establish and maintain your new exercise habit.

Schedule Yourself

Setting time aside to be active each day will ensure that you don’t overlook its importance. This could be going to the gym, taking a dance class, or running around your local park.

Whatever it is, try to do it for 30 – 45 minutes, and try to maintain your target heart rate for most of that time. You can determine your target heart rate by doing the following:

  1. Subtract your age from 220 = This is your maximum heart rate
  2. Multiply that number by 80% = This is your target heart rate

By staying within your target heart rate during your activity, you’ll burn fat, improve your cardiovascular system, and build up endurance.

If you can, get up an hour earlier and get active first thing in the morning. You’ll not only get it out of the way, it’s harder to over-schedule yourself at 5am in the morning!

“Plus, exercise produces endorphins, which will help you be more productive, have more energy, and be in a more positive mood throughout the day,” EP says. “You’ll also fire up your metabolism, so you’ll be a calorie-burning machine all day.”

It's Not All Cardio, All the Time

While cardio is an important part of staying fit, you can mix things up a bit by incorporating resistance training into your workouts. You can do this through traditional weight lifting, choreographed classes that incorporate weights, and even by using your own bodyweight.

Resistance training will not only shape and tone your body, it will aid you in burning up to 30 extra calories per hour while resting!

“You’re only burning calories while you’re actively doing cardio,” EP says. “But after weight training, your metabolism continues to soar, and you’ll continue to burn calories for up to two more hours.”

Just Add Weights

If you’re not ready to start pumping iron, you can get the benefits of resistance training by adding weights to the activities you already do. For example, try carrying three pound weights with you while you’re walking around your park, or increase the resistance on your favorite elliptical or stationary bike. Again, start small and build from there.

If you’re looking for more specific guidance on developing a fitness routine, diet plan, or setting realistic goals, consider joining EP during his next class!

Pets and Cannabis

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Pets and Cannabis | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Cannabis Institute - CEUs | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Pets and Cannabis | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

No, This Article Isn't About Getting Your Animal High

In fact, if you’re getting your animal high purely for your enjoyment, it’s highly unethical and could cause your pet to be very uncomfortable and anxious. Rather, this article is about the emerging market and uses of cannabis in veterinary medicine.

The endocannabinoid system in the human body is thought to regulate sleep, hunger, inflammations, autoimmune function, and more. It produces endogenous, or naturally occurring, cannabinoids, which are very similar to the phytocannabinoids present in cannabis. Because we have receptors specifically designed to receive cannabinoids, it makes cannabis a very effective and safe medicine for humans. And all vertebrate animals — from snakes to elephants — have this endocannabinoid system.

Using cannabis to treat animals is in the very early stages right now, but there is some history of its use. In the early 1900’s, veterinary medicine used cannabis tinctures to treat herd animals for bloating, dysentery, and other gastrointestinal conditions. Due to prohibition, however, research on the efficacy of cannabis use in veterinary medicine has been limited, and professional organizations are unwilling to support its use, so licensed veterinarians are understandably hesitant to recommend cannabis therapies to pet owners.

But advances in developing cannabis for different medical applications in humans have resulted in the introduction of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that can be extracted from both cannabis and hemp. Because it doesn’t have an intoxicating effect, CBD-based medicine for pets has been slowly gaining traction.

While more research is required, many anecdotal stories from pet owners and some veterinarians about the benefits of CBD in pet care have increased the interest of pet owners around the world. The potential that this therapy could help heal their pets — with possibly few side effects, when compared with more intensive pharmaceutical therapies — is quite exciting.

As interest increases and the success stories are shared, a variety of CBD-based pet treats are being introduced to the market. CBD can be derived from both cannabis and hemp, however, its future is currently uncertain. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently stated that it is reevaluating CBD — even if it’s extracted from hemp — and may include them in their drug scheduling. This is contrary to the Farm Bill signed by President Obama, so a lawsuit has already been filed to challenge any move to make CBD illegal by the DEA.

If you’re considering using cannabis-based medicine with your pet, please do so under the professional direction of a licensed veterinarian. This can present a bit of a challenge, however, given that the industry has not yet come out in support of using cannabis with pets.

In general, it’s a good idea to go ‘low and slow’ to avoid overdoing it when trying to establish the appropriate dosage for your pet. Be sure to monitor their behavior and reactions closely, as well.

Additionally, I encourage you to only use products derived from organic, US-grown hemp in order to avoid the pesticides and heavy metals sometimes found in Chinese hemp.

Do you have experience with using cannabis to treat your pet’s medical condition? If so, please share in the comments below!

Instructor Spotlight: Annie Dumont

Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Do it Yourself!

Annie Dumont - DIY Natural Products Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing EducationEven all-natural cleaning and personal care products can have extra ingredients to preserve them and ensure they’re shelf-stable.

A great way to ensure that you’re using 100% all-natural products is to make them yourself.

After a personal love affair with creating soaps and other cleaning products for herself and her family, Annie Dumont decided to go into business to share her passion with the world.

She is now offering her DIY Natural Products series of workshops at Seattle Central, which cover the following:

Learn more about Annie’s background and approach, and then download her DIY toothpaste how-to guide below.

What classes do you teach for Seattle Central?

I currently teach Basic Cleaning Products, Medicine Cabinet Products and Personal Care Basics.

I’m hoping to expand my offerings to include some soap classes and classes that families can take together.

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching professionally for 4 years, but I have been teaching friends and family for more than 10 years.

What's your educational & professional background?

After a long romance with making everything from soap to lip balm to diaper rash cream, I decided to open my doors (or my mind) to teaching others my love and passion for crafting natural personal care and cleaning products.

I opened A Kitchen Story in 2012 to spread the love by way of individual and group classes.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching your classes at Seattle Central?

I love to watch the passion and enthusiasm of my students.

Tell us about an inspirational teaching moment.

During one of my classes, after everyone just finished making a batch of laundry detergent, one student yelled out, “I can’t wait to go home and do laundry!”

Her excitement was inspiring and contagious.

Annie's Favorites

Restaurant in Seattle

  • Lotus Thai Cuisine


  • Making soap, of course!
  • Refinishing old furniture, making something old new again


  • Hawaii was the first vacation my husband and I went on together before we were married. The memories are awesome and plentiful.

Learn From the Entrepreneurial Experts

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Is Starting Your Own Business Right for You?

Owning a successful business is a big dream — one that can easily turn into a nightmare if you’re not fully prepared to be an entrepreneur.

Even if you’re great at what you do, actually running a business requires a lot of hard work, a variety of skills unrelated to your core service or offering, and being financially savvy enough to give your business the time and space it needs to grow.

A few years ago, Jeff Leavy created The Entrepreneurship Toolkit for Seattle Central College’s Business and Technology department, largely in response to the community’s need for more training and guidance in the world of small business. This year, he passed the reigns to one of the classes’ long-time expert lecturers, Michael Coffey, so we asked both Jeff and Michael to share more about their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives on this class.

We’ll be offering this course again during Spring 2017, so read on to learn whether or not this class is the right fit for you.

How long have you been teaching these workshops?

Jeff: Three years, then I handed it off to the very capable Michael Coffey.

Michael: I’m brand new and an old hand at this. I first got involved with the Entrepreneurship Toolkit class as a guest speaker a few years ago.

I met Jeff Levy, who created this class, when I was a Business Assistance Officer at the Washington Women’s Business Center. When I left to launch my own business as a digital strategist for small business, he asked me to come in and present some key ideas of marketing online. This also led to my designing and teaching the Marketing Fundamentals class.

I’ve been coming in as a guest speaker almost every quarter since then, but Fall 2016 was my first time as the instructor for the full course.

What inspired you to teach this class?

Jeff: The dean at the time felt that Seattle Central College had an opportunity to be a center of excellence in entrepreneurship. I am a subject matter expert in that field and also a community college graduate. It was time to give back and provide some inspiration.

Michael: Aside from simply the necessity (Jeff Levy had conflicts that prevented him from teaching), the importance of this class is twofold.

First, I think it’s important for everyone to view starting a business as a possibility for them to consider. Not every business idea is great. Not every person is ready to start a business. But there is still a lot of inequality in who starts a business, and I think our economy would be more vibrant and diverse if more people considered business ownership. And the first step toward that is helping people see that starting their own business is a possible option for them.

Second, on the flip side, it’s also very important that those who do start a business are well informed about the process when they do so. Being a hard worker is not enough. Being good at what you do is not enough. Being passionate is not enough. Jumping in without having a good picture of what the experience of entrepreneurship is leads to a huge percentage of business failures. The misconceptions about entrepreneurship can be deadly to a business venture.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

Jeff: Most of my other work are two hour seminars, and this is more hands-on and discussion-based.

Michael: Much of what I teach, both as a digital strategist and at Seattle Central, is about technical skills.

The Marketing Fundamentals class is an overview of marketing skills and concepts. I’ve taught classes about how to set up your own business website, or use Google+ as both a social media channel and to improve search engine optimization. But Entrepreneurship Toolkit is more about the entrepreneurs themselves. It’s about the bigger picture of both designing your ideal life, and based on that personal vision, thinking about business ownership as a potential way of realizing that vision. That’s very different than how most people think of starting a business.

Of course, there are also skills involved, and evaluating whether you’re ready now or if you have more work to do, and so forth, but the core of the class is the idea of whether a particular business idea will serve your life.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

Jeff: Anyone entering the work force or needing to work their way through the “New Career Economy.”

Today, 31% of the work force is 1099, contract employees and that is projected to grow to 50% over the next 15-20 years. New workers need survival skills, both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial. This class provides that.

Michael: Anyone who wonders about starting their own independent business, or buying a franchise.

This class is a great way to “try on” what it might be like to own a business, and what it would take to be successful — without the substantial costs in money and time of really starting one.

I’d love it if all the students were successful in business, it’s also sometimes a success if a student realizes, “I was about to start, but I know now that I need to learn more about how accounting (or whatever) works first.” Or that their personal goals are better achieved through traditional employment. Or that they need to prioritize building savings first before financing a startup.

Anyone who’s not sure about those kinds of priorities would get a lot out of this class.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

Jeff: When a student that was also taking a class called Art and Anarchy told me he loved my class when he realized there was no financial security in anarchy. Wow!

Michael: We recently were visited by a librarian from the Seattle Public Library, Jay Lyman.

Many of the students were stunned (in a good way!) by how much detail could be gleaned about their potential customers, competitors, and industry, using free library resources. The “aha” was not just what data was in which database, but that it was even possible to find these things out.

I could almost see thoughts like “Wait, if you can see that, I bet you could also figure out…” cross many faces.

Key Takeaways

  1. Learn goal setting
  2. Meet community resources
  3. Assess your communications style & strengths
A business should be designed to support your life goals; otherwise, you’re just in a job where you have to be both boss and employee.
There are lots of risks in business, but there are healthy ways to address those risks.
Business ownership may be right for you, but maybe not right now.
Strategy and planning are two of the biggest keys to success.

Instructor Spotlight: Gilberto Nunez-Lira

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Gilberto Nunez-Lira - Spanish Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Spanish Language Classes in Seattle WA

Spice Things Up

We’ve written about how learning a new language can change your perspective, but it’s also a great way to shake things up a bit in your life.

And who better to help you shake things up than a Spanish teacher with a love for Cuban music?!

Meet instructor Gilberto Nunez-Lira, who has been sharing his knowledge and experience in our Spanish for Travelers class for the last 10 years.

What classes do you teach for Seattle Central?

I teach Spanish For Travelers for Continuing Education at Seattle Central College.

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for about 10 years or so at Seattle Central.

What's your educational & professional background?

I graduated with two Bachelor Degrees at the University of Washington (Latin American Studies and Spanish).

I have been influenced by great professors throughout my educational experience.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching your classes at Seattle Central?

When I teach, I enjoy the positive impact in the students’ life. I love when they show interest in experiencing the language.

Seattle Central College provides a great opportunity and learning environment for the teaching of Spanish.

Tell us about an inspirational teaching moment.

It is an inspirational moment when the students participate in class.

Gilberto Nunez-Lira - Spanish Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Gilberto's Favorites


  • My favorite songs are those with a Cuban rhythm


  • Dancing!


  • Mexico, because I have the opportunity to visit and see my relatives
There are two types of people in the world, those who are learning by doing different activities in life, and those who are just observing others.

Hands-On Guidance in Caring for Your Home

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The Home Should be the Treasure Chest of Living — Le Corbusier

How are you treating your treasure? Do you need some guidance on caring for your home?

The dream of home ownership can quickly become a nightmare if you’re not prepared in the basics of home repair and maintenance.

Knowing simple things like repairing a damaged wall, replacing a leaking pipe under the sink, and preparing for cold weather are key in keeping your home safe and comfortable.

Expert contractor Peter Marx has been guiding folks in his Basic Hands-On Home Repair and Maintenance workshops over the past two decades.

“I don’t know everything — and I don’t pretend to,” he laughs. “But what I can do is offer my opinion and experience, and show them where they can find more resources.”

We asked him to share with us more about his class, why he teaches it, and why you should join him for his next series of hands-on workshops.

How long have you been teaching these workshops?

I’ve been teaching this class for the last 23 years, and about 12 of those have been at Seattle Central.

What inspired you to teach this class?

I was a self-employed contractor and cabinet maker since college, eventually becoming a vendor and installer for Corel solid surface coutertops. One of my largest vendors was a local home improvement chain called Ernst Hardware, and when they went out of business, my business took a huge hit.

So I went to a vocational counselor, who advised me that I had a lot of great experience in building and construction, and that I should find a way to share that with others. And I love doing that — I have decades of knowledge and experience, and it’s great to give that back to my community.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

Like all of my workshops, this is a hands-on class, and I’ve developed the curriculum so that students can actually do things in the class versus a discussion of theory and simply watching a demonstration.

That’s actually quite unusual for a home repair class; usually it’s a demo and discussion, and students go home to try things out on their own. I’ve set up an environment that gives folks the opportunity to actually do the work, versus just watching or talking about it.

This means they’ll retain more of the information, and feel more confident when they’re working on these repairs at home by themselves.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

I’ve had a wide variety of students throughout the history of these classes, but here are a few of the most common:

  • new homeowners
  • older homeowners who lost their repairing or maintenance partner
  • apartment managers
  • those interested in buying a home

But everyone is welcome, regardless of their backgrounds, and it’s a fun and supportive environment.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

One of the projects that we work on is how to do basic electrical work. It involves wiring a light bulb, and when they complete the project — and the bulb lights up — they’re eyes often do, too!

It’s a great metaphor for their own learning, and teaching them how capable they really are. Electrical work can seem daunting, and learning the basics can be truly empowering.

Key Takeaways

  1. Gain a basic understanding of your house as a system
  2. Improve your understanding of plumbing and electrical
  3. Learn how to do calking and plasterboard projects
  4. Get guidance on how to work smart and safely
  5. Learn how to communicate effectively with professionals

Recommended Resources

I provide my students with a resource sheet so they’ll know who is reputable to work with in the area, but here are a few tips to consider when you’re looking for guidance online or from a book:

  • If you’re watching a project on TV or YouTube, realize that the time is condensed and your project will actually take a lot longer than how it’s presented
  • Check who is producing a home improvement show, book, or guide to ensure that they’re a reputable source of information
  • Large home improvement stores often have great how-to guides for projects
  • Your home’s design or materials may differ from what is presented in the show, book, or guide, so be certain to review it thoroughly before you start

Most importantly, don’t take on any projects that you don’t feel you have the skills to complete! But if you do, and you need to work with a pro to finish it, you can learn great skills in communicating with them in my class.

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